Shari'a as taboo of Modern Law: Halal Food, Islamaphobia, and China

April 25, 2019

Matthew. S Erie, Shariʿa as Taboo of Modern Law: Halal Food, Islamophobia, and China, 33 J. L. & REL. 390 (2019).

Full paper available


Why is shariʿa the taboo of modern law? This article examines the “spread of halal” controversy in China as a window to assess how nativist public opinion influences state law and policy whereas state law is foreclosed to providing protection to rights provided for in shariʿa. Among Chinese Muslims (Hui), qingzhen (lit. “pure” plus “true”) or “halal” is the kernel of their localized shariʿa, and one that prohibits consuming pork. The symbol qingzhen has proliferated in the course of China's economic modernization such that it pervades the public sphere, creating anxiety among Han Chinese that Chinese society and government is becoming “Islamicized.” Hui fear that the profusion of qingzhen foments food insecurity and endangers truth in labeling. In response, they have sought greater protection for their diluted core symbol in national legislation—attempts which have only exacerbated Hui-Han relations. Based on observations from over seven years of field research and interviews with Hui legal entrepreneurs, and drawing from the anthropology of taboo, I explain the debate in China by taking the Hui idea of shariʿa as a taboo to reflexively think about how secular non-Muslim states regard shariʿa as the taboo of modern law.